I am not exaggerating when I say that Neighborhood Park's allowance for freewheeling dogs has saved my life. Because I need to exhaust my dog, you guys -- exhaust him, or be faced with an entire workday punctuated by whining and sniffing and the unnerving realization, every ten minutes or so, that I am being panted on. Hot dog breath is an inspiration-killer, and I can't get anything done unless Hurley the Golden Retriever has been run ragged. And now, by the grace of the Neighborhood Park, what once required hours of stiff-legged walking in the frigid cold can be accomplished in less than twenty minutes with an empty lawn and a tennis ball. (Because, you know, golden retriever.)
At this point, it's become a routine: Hurley and I arrive at the park around 7:30, we walk once around the perimeter, and then we pop into the triangular patch of grass at the south-east corner for ball-playing time. I throw, the dog retrieves, occasional passersby will stop to watch my glorious, floppy-eared friend as he charges back and forth across the lawn. The gardener and several other park employees know us both by name, and it's all very fun and friendly and Brooklyn cute.
So I didn't think anything of it when yesterday, near the end of ball-playing time, a burly man in a parks uniform came striding down the path toward me.
"Hey!" he called.
"Hello," I said.
"Let me ask you something," he shouted, stopping about fifteen feet in front of me. His voice was a tough-guy caricature, turning "let me" into "lemme" and "ask" into "ax".
"Sure!" I chirped, thinking, Ten to one he's got a bet with his friend over there that Lassie was a golden retriever.
Burly gestured toward the opposite corner of the park. "There's a dog run right over there," he sneered.
I looked in the direction of the dog run, and then back at Burly, and it was at this point that a small voice piped up in my brain to suggest that perhaps this wasn't a friendly visit after all. Because friendly people do not usually have conversations by shouting at you from a distance, and also, because Burly's face was contorted beneath his green ribbed skullcap into an expression of pinched pissed-off-itude.
"So what makes you so special," he shouted, puffing up his chest and glaring at me, "that you don't have to have your dog in the dog run like everyone else?"
I blinked, and suddenly felt like I was back in second grade -- tiny, trembling, and being informed by a looming adult that I had been a Very Bad Girl. I tried to smile disarmingly.
"Um... it's before nine o'clock," I said, and tried to point back toward the entrance sign. "The sign says--"
"DESIGNATED AREAS ONLY!" Burly shouted. I stared back, desperately trying to remember the exact wording of the sign, and realizing at the same time that even if I was right, the frothing oaf in front of me was probably not going to care. I took a deep breath.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know," I said, still smiling and keeping my voice as mild as possible. Do not provoke the beast, my brain whimpered. Maybe he'll go away.
But Burly Meaniepants, Park Avenger, was having none of it. He made an exaggerated show of smacking his forehead and rolling his eyes, then shouted, "Well, maybe you should ASK QUESTIONS, huh?!"
Now convinced that I was dealing with someone seriously unhinged, I took a step backward and kept smiling.
"Okay!" I chirped.
Burly turned to walk away, then turned back and pointed furiously at the lawn. "You wanna know where your tax dollars are going?" he yelled. "Right there!"
I looked at the lawn -- which was looking rather the worse for wear, but which Burly seemed to think was the exclusive fault of my dog, which is just ridiculous. I took another step back, still smiling.
"Okay!" I said again.
Burly threw his hands in the air and made a big show of walking away in a huff.
I clipped the leash onto Hurley's collar and sped away in the opposite direction. But as I passed out of the park gate, I stopped -- there was the sign, and on it, a clearly-written line that said:
Dogs must be leashed at all times, except in designated areas, between the hours of 9:00am and 9:00pm.
I'd been right, not that it mattered.
Except that thirty minutes later, inside my apartment, I was pissed. Who the fuck does that guy think he is? I fumed. Not only was he WRONG, he was TOTALLY RUDE. Why should he get away with that?
At which point, with my blood boiling and fury fogging my brain, I threw my coat on and charged back out the door and toward the park, intent on finding Burly Meaniepants and giving him a piece of my mind.
He was, of course, not there.
I briefly considered going home. But then:
"Excuse me," I said, coming up behind a moustached parks employee who was clearing fallen branches from the garden. "I'm looking for a man who was here earlier, around eight o'clock? Big guy, sort of burly, wearing a green beanie hat?"
Moustache looked wearily at me. "You know his name?"
"No," I said. "But he was... um, burly?"
"Was he black?" asked Moustache.
"No," I said, and then added, "he was mean."
Moustache scratched his head. "It could have been John," he muttered. And then, "Can I help you with something?"
I recounted the morning's exchange, finishing by pointing out the sign.
"The sign might be wrong," said Moustache.
My stomach sank. "Oh," I said.
"You know what? The parks director for this district is here. You should talk to him."
"Okay," I said, reluctantly shuffling after him, ready to be upbraided again for permitting the unpardonable sin of off-leash dog exercising, and also possibly blamed for all damage done to the park over the past ten years, because why not.
So, imagine my relief when the absolutely charming, polite, AND handsome parks director listened to my story and said, "Of course you can have your dog off-leash before nine! That guy was WRONG!"
An hour later, I recounted the full story to my mother -- including the part where the lovely, well-coiffed, nice-smelling parks director promised to deal with Burly Meaniepants, and then shook my hand and said, "You have fun with your dog out there, okay? Tell him to enjoy it. Tell your dog to ENJOY IT!"
"Ha!" she crowed. "But you didn't see that mean guy again, huh?"
"No," I said.
"That's too bad," she said. "I mean, it's great how this worked out, but it would be really great if you got to rub his face in it."
"I know," I said, "but I doubt I'll see him again."
...Except that this morning, as Hurley and I rounded the final turn of our perimeter walk, a man stepped out in front of me. Tall, broad-shouldered, grizzled, and wearing a green ribbed skullcap.
He didn't recognize me.
"Nice dog," he said, as I stopped in front of him.
And then I said, "You were really freaking rude to me yesterday."
Burly's smile seemed to slide from his face and dribble along his collar before disappearing completely.
"Uh," he said. "When?"
"I was exercising my dog," I said, pointing to the lawn. "And you gave me a really hard time about it."
"Oh," he said. From the corner of my eye, I noticed that a small crowd of parks employees had gathered to watch the exchange.
"And just so you know," I said, still smiling, "I spoke to Neil, and dogs are allowed to be off-leash in this park before nine o'clock."
"Well," said Burly, "I just found that out yesterday. Every park is different, you know."
"Uh-huh," I said. "Except you were wrong, and you were rude, and it was completely unnecessary."
(Note: If any of you have been harboring any lingering doubts about what a very, very special kind of asshole Burly Meaniepants is, this next bit should clear things up nicely.)
"You know," he said, his voice growing hard and his eyes flicking briefly to the eavesdropping audience before focusing back on me, "I serve two-hundred thousand people in this district, okay? And, like, fifty percent of them break the rules, so it's not my problem if..."
I raised my eyebrows.
"I mean, if I was rude, uh, I apologize," he scoffed in way that was distinctly unapologetic.
"Thank you for apologizing," I said.
(Note: If any of you are still unsure about Burly Meaniepants' status as a Very Special Asshole, then keep reading, because that should have been the end of it, and yet, Burly wasn't done.)
"But you know," he continued, puffing out his chest and glaring at me, "like I said, I see a lot of riff-raff. And if you don't believe me, you can just take my job for a day and see how you like it," and he was really getting going now, his voice getting louder, and he extended one meaty finger in my direction before snapping, "because I see two hundred thousand people--"
And then it happened.
"Yes," I said sweetly, still smiling, cutting him off in mid-stream. "And I'm sure you're nasty to every single one of them."
Have you ever had a moment like this? One in which, by virtue of a brief rip in the space-time continuum and also, possibly, by the grace of God himself, your mouth opens and your voice comes out and the words you put together make up the most perfect situational comeback EVER? Because oh, it was glorious. And it will probably never happen again.
Burly's mouth dropped open. One of the other parks employees snickered. I turned on my heel with a flourish, practically shaking at the serendipity of the whole thing.
"Let's go, Hurley," I said. Hurley gamely dropped the stick he'd been chewing and trotted along with me.
Behind me, Burly recovered and shouted, "Hey, wait a sec! Hey, come back here!"
I turned around.
"No!" I said.
And then, because I am extremely mature, I also shouted, "You're a JERK!"
...Oh, I'm sorry, were you looking for a climactic finish? Well, okay.
AND THEN I STABBED HIM.